Epilogue to Survival - chapter excerpt
Please enjoy this excerpt from my novella about surviving - or not - the destruction of Earth.
The plan was flawless. As flawless as the mind of a human:
Stop the source, the opposition, at any cost. Better to lose a few in the beginning than billions in the end. People can recover – the land can recover. Life will go on. Never doubt. Believe. Trust. Know.
The rhetoric sounded so fierce, so believable, so worth any sacrifice, sitting in that air-conditioned, insulated conference room deep under the sands of a desert. It made his heart swell with fervor and patriotism, made him proud to be a part of the great minds that conceived of the plan to stop the advance of that other, far colder intelligence. No matter the cost, there was no price too high to pay for the safety of their children and the world’s future. So he believed. So he had acted in accordance with his conscious. He pressed the first of many buttons. He watched and hoped. He believed.
He was wrong.
The plan was simple. Destroy the opposition before it finished destroying us. Intelligence showed where it was located and what might be the necessary amount of force to destroy it.
And they could. They had the power and their systems were completely closed. There was no way any foreign programming could go undetected. Orders could not be changed or reinterpreted at the last moment. Nothing could take control and reprogram the missiles. Nothing from the outside. Their facility and machinery were completely insulated. They were safe from any attacks it might send.
Which is why he never saw the attack from within coming. One of his own. Many of his own. Men and women he trusted – spies, captains, lieutenants, intelligence officers… from all ranks they came, following every order he’d ever given. Perfectly. Obediently. The best of the best. His colleagues. His friends.
Until the moment he said, “Initiate.”
And they did. Oh they did. But it wasn’t just one button – it was all of them. Every single one. Commands to other missile control centers. Initiate permissions for bombsites he didn’t even know existed, buried deep within the ground. All protected in their perfect, insulated, enclosed system, only able to be activated from within.
But the enemy was within.
When the men and women – the traitors, all – finished initiating destruction for the entire human race, they turned on the others in the control room and began shooting before anyone had time to react.
The General had been one of the first ones hit, shot from multiple guns both in front of and behind him. It was only because he’d been wearing a bulletproof vest that he was still breathing.
But the marksmen knew their job well. He wasn’t dead yet, but if he didn’t get medical help soon, he was likely to bleed out. Yet where in the world would he find a medic or doctor, when he’d locked the command center and closed off the outside world.
Arrogance. It’s what they always said. What the good doctor accused me of. But even she couldn’t have predicted this.
He dragged himself across the floor and under a desk for cover as bodies flew around him. He’d heard the traitors methodically stomp across the room and silence screaming men and women. From his spot against the floor, he watched bodies thud to the ground. Worse, many of those bodies still harbored life – fluttering eyes and gasping throats.
One such man was one of his two most trusted assistants. An Assistant Commander. One of the finest he’d ever known. But as he fell to the floor a few feet in front of the General, none of that mattered. The Assistant Commander thrashed his head wildly, looking for help to escape, even as his body started to fail.
As their eyes met, both men saw the extent of the other’s wounds. They understood then that their hope to survive was futile. No one was coming.
The General attempted a soothing, conciliatory smile at the Assistant Commander, but he quickly stopped himself. His colleague – his friend – deserved the truth. Instead, he shook his head and watched the light in his Assistant Commander’s eyes fade. The General witnessed his horror, his confusion, his pain. The final question lingering in his eyes.
After the Assistant Commander died, the General closed his eyes, unwilling to see anymore. Instead, he concentrated on blocking out the noise and trying to figure out why a man might turn against his own kind.
Is it because he has deemed the behavior of his peers unacceptable? Is it a cry for recognition, a warped belief that any attention is better than none at all? Is it an attempt to seize power, to feel more in control? Or is it bitter vengeance against perceived injustices that refuses to die until he takes out as many people as he can?
But then… why kill people you called friends? Or even family? Why them? They trusted you, held you close, invited you for holidays and birthdays to celebrate your relationship, one built on years of shared hoped and realized dreams.
I believed in these people, and thought they believed in me. Where did we go wrong?
The questions circled in his mind, taunting him, offering no easy answers.
His senses came fully alive as he realized absolute silence had fallen. No screams. No labored breathing. No gunshots. It was finished.
But was he alone?
He let the silence gestate for a while longer, trying to hear if anyone else might be alive. Or worse, if one of the traitors was still around. But there was nothing.
Finally convinced, he allowed himself to take a deep breath, struggling to ignore his bullet-riddled body.
A hand suddenly grasped his ankle in a steely grip and yanked him from his hiding spot. Agony tore through his open wounds as they split further. He groaned, unable to do little more than feebly kick his legs in response.
A man crouched next to him. He lifted up the General into a leaning position and cradled his neck in strong arms. Blearily, nearly unconscious, the General opened his eyes.
“You…” he whispered.
It was his assistant. The Commandant. A man he’d known for over thirty years. He’d been his best man at his wedding, was Godparent to one of his children, had saved his life on the field decades before. He knew this man.
The Commandant looked down at the General, expressionless. His had been the first bullet to hit the General.
“You’re… going… to finish it…” the General gasped as he stared into the Commandant’s eyes. “Just tell me… w-why?”
The Commandant’s face remained impassive as he stared down at the General. After several long seconds, he lifted his hand in front of the General’s face. He flinched, but the Commandant didn’t move. He merely switched his gaze from the General to his palm. Bewildered, the General fought to remain conscious as the Commandant stared at his hand.
The skin rippled suddenly. A grey dot formed in the very center, swelling the skin like a pustule until it squeezes out through the Commandant’s pores and formed a tiny ball. The Commandant then pressed his palm to the General’s forehead.
He closed his eyes in relief, thinking maybe his friend had come to his senses and was giving him a final benediction. The Commandant’s actions were unforgivable, but still, the General would rather die in the arms of someone on his side.
But when the Commandant lifted his hand, the grey ball remained attached to the skin on the General’s forehead. He felt a sudden pressure that quickly turned into sharp, biting pain. The ball was burrowing through his scalp and into bone. Through bone.
It was headed to his brain.
“W-why?” he asked again.
This time, the Commandant responded.
“You must all die.”
The grey ball entered the General’s brain. A final, fleeting thought floated through his mind. Why are his eyes red?
The Commandant watched distantly as the bullet completed its job, ricocheting through the dense tissue until it was torn mush. Then he recalled the grey ball. When it was once again resting on the General forehead, he pressed his hand against it, pushing it back into his skin, letting it reabsorb back into his system. Then he let the General’s body flop on the blood-soaked concrete floor.
“You should’ve asked why the bombs were necessary in the first place. Old friend.”
The Commandant turned and surveyed the scene. For the moment, his job was done.